Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book 6: Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy, Part 1

Okay, so I cut the subtitle, but I mean, come on! How many words can one person justifiably put on the front cover of a book without his publisher saying, "That's enough, bub! Save some for the inside!"? I'm pretty sure that sentence is a catastrophe of punctuation, but it had to be done. For the Captain Underpants purists out there, the subtitle was "The Night of the Nasty Nostril Nuggets" which is another masterpiece of alliteration, though I stand by my earlier comment. Too long is too long, regardless of word choice.

So let's get down to the story. Melvin Sneedly, a tiny speck in the background of Captain Underpants's previous adventures, surges to the forefront in this epic. He's the villainous tattletale that was just bound to happen somewhere in a series about two exceptionally mischievous school-age boys. Of course, being a villain in the Dav Pilkey realm of villainy means that something has to be childishly gross about him. Enter the dependable unplanned element entering the transformation machine's energy beam as he attempts to transform himself into a super bionic being ploy. We've all seen it done a thousand times before, but snot covered super being is definitely a new twist on an old trick. The usual angle is a half boy, half animal. It's not one third boy, one third robot, one third mucus. Pilkey gets kudos for creativity.

Melvin Sneedly was truly an awful little guy. Even before he turned into the contents of a nostril, he wasn't particularly likable. Sure, he was underappreciated just like many of the Underpants villains were before they turned evil, but he was also a detestable pain-in-the-neck with a slight Napoleon complex. I'm no psychologist, but the kid needed help. One thing that separated him from the pack was the fact that he didn't turn evil right away as if mutation is an inherently evil activity. No, in fact, he tried to go on with his life while working toward the fix for his malady. I don't know why he didn't try to contain himself while he worked towards righting things. He could have been an unobtrusive gross thing in a vacuum sealed bubble and saved a lot of hassle, but let's not nitpick at an otherwise kind-of-okay story.

The Incredible Hulk-like mutation he underwent at the tissue factory was amusing if for no other reason than that the only thing anyone seemed to notice about it before it got out of hand was Melvin's sudden bad grammar. Also the solution to the problem being as simple as switching the batteries around in the Combine-O-Tron 2000 was a stroke of pure brilliance, especially since it gave Pilkey ample opportunity to take a few humorous shots at the absurdity of the entire story. Both of my favorite lines in this story were written in that same self-deprecating vein of humor.

The first came on page 125 when Captain Underpants needed a red cape with black polka dots and George and Harold were hiding behind, of all things, a red curtain with black polka dots. He wrote,
"Gee," he said, "I sure wish I could find a red curtain with black dots on it."
"Hey," said George as he pointed to the red curtain with black dots on it, "here's a red curtain with black dots on it."
"What a remarkably unexpected coincidence," said Captain Underpants as he grabbed the latest in a series of convoluted plot devices and tied it around his neck.
That is good comedy. There are no two ways about it. The second came on page 160 when George and Harold have just suggested that to undo the effects of the Combine-O-Tron 2000 they switch the batteries around. Melvin's parents knock the idea for its lack of scientific foundation. They say,
"You can't expect to reverse the effects of a highly complex cellular-moleculizing Combine-O-Tron just by switching the batteries around. That type of thing only happens in obnoxious children's stories."
George responds by self-consciously replying, "Ahem. Well… why don't you just give it a try anyway." I really respect him for handling it the way he does. Everything in these books is cleverly crafted with tongue-in-cheek sensibility. He's obviously playing with us. He knows he's pushing some limits, though nothing he's doing hasn't been done a thousand times before.

I say we should all laugh along with him at the joke he's made. Whether we decide to join in or not, he's had his fun. It's up to us to decide if the fun is at our expense or ours to share.

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